Published On: Mon, Dec 7th, 2015

BACKYARD BIRDING IN MERIDA, YUCATAN AND BEYOND – PIRATES ON THE HIGH TREES: PIRATIC FLYCATCHER

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Legatus leucophaius, Papamoscas Rayado Chico (Spanish)

Black-masked Pirates lurk on the high trees waiting to steal their booty. Since these pirates don’t build their own nests, they rob other birds’ covered nests or hanging sac nests. These thieves even hang around while the nest builder(s) constructs their nests and lay eggs. Then the pirate pair continually harass the nest owners. One pirate may lead the hosts away from their nest while the other steals every egg in the clutch and then drops each one to the ground until all the eggs are gone. Plus even chicks can be killed.

 

In some instances the flitting filchers remove eggs or chicks from other nearby nests to build a defense area around their  stolen treasure. I’d call that a “robbing ‘hood.” They often overtake nests of oropendulas, becards, caciques, other flycatchers, and orioles and line the bottom of their newly acquired home with dead leaves. I wonder when the raider chases away the hosts of an oriole hanging sac, if it’s called “ran-sac-ing?”

Rose-throated Becard

Rose-throated Becard

Rose-throated Becard __covered__nest

Rose-throated Becard __covered__nest

These 5-6 inch pirates are called Piratic Flycatchers.

Piratic Flycatcher

Piratic Flycatcher

Piratic Flycatcher stole oriole nest

Piratic Flycatcher stole oriole nest

According to one source, the adults may feed entirely on fruit even while they feed the chicks insects such as dragonflies. Furthermore this species migrates when fruit seems more abundant than insects. Furthermore, it seems the pair can feed on unripened fruit which means they can eat quickly. The well-fed male marauder can spend about 90% of his time singing noisily above the hijacked nest rather than foraging. Even the female squatter sings a low melody while she incubates her two-three eggs in their reclaimed prize. A victory song?

 

LINK TO SONG AND CALLS:  http://www.xeno-canto.org/259031

Piratic Flycatcher male  sings

Piratic Flycatcher male sings

When I first saw a pair of this pale yellow-vested species lurking near an Altamira Oriole pendulous nest, they looked like the Social Flycatcher. Both species belong in the aggressive terrorists’ family of tyrant flycatchers. But this tyrant has a one-of-a-kind genus, Legatus.

Social Flycatcher

Social Flycatcher

Side view of Piratic Flycatcher resembles cousin Social Flycatcher

Side view of Piratic Flycatcher resembles cousin Social Flycatcher

On an outing in Quintana Roo of the Yucatan Peninsula, I learned about the Piratic Flycatchers that migrate north from South America as SUMMER resident breeders from May – Sept. They range from southeastern Mexico to northern Argentina and Trinidad. Birders in Texas and Kansas even spotted vagrants. This widespread species is found in borders of humid forests, clearings with scattered TALL trees, and cacao and coffee plantations.

 

When I think of bird migrants, I usually think of birds flying south for the winter. As I’ve mentioned before, the Yucatan Peninsula is a hotspot for migratory birds with over 1,000,000 birds flying through or overwintering on it. Now I realize that some birds fly north from South America.

 

MIGRATE OUTDOORS TO LET YOUR SOUL FLY TOO!

 

DISCLAIMER: References do not agree on details about this species. Here are my resources: Personal communication with Barbara MacKinnon de Montes, The Auk, Volume 94, Number 1 (1977) Eugene Morton, The Mind of Birds, Sal a Pajarear Yucatan Guia de Aves, The Suboscine Passerines: The Birds of South America, Vol II,  A Guide to the Birds of Venezuela. A Guide to the Birds of Mexico and Northern Central America, Birds and Reserves of the Yucatan Peninsula, A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica,  A Guide to the Birds of Colombia, http://macaulaylibrary.org/ a website from Cornell Lab of Ornithology, http://www.birdsoftt.com/birds_info/piratic%20flycatcher.htm

 

Cherie Pittillo, “nature inspired,” photographer and author, explores nature everywhere she goes. She’s identified 56 bird species in her Merida, Yucatan backyard view. Her column, published on the 7th and 21st of each month, features anecdotes about birding in Merida, Yucatan and beyond. Contact: all4birdies@gmail.com  All rights reserved, ©Cherie Pittillo

 

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